On our first day in London, we went to The Imperial War Museum. We would have gone anyway, because our current living situation involves a lot more glorifying of war than I would like, but the visit came with the added bonus of Once Upon a Wartime, featuring five children’s books, War Horse, The Machine Gunners, The Silver Sword, Little Soldier (with which I was not familiar but have since read it, and think you should too) and, one of my most favourite childhood books, Carrie’s War. I was tragically in love with stories of the evacuation as a child, and also with all of Nina Bawden’s books which I must have read hundreds of times each.
‘But I want to see this first,’ Youngest said as we passed through the auditorium across to the exhbition. ‘I don’t want to go to a boring old exhibition.’
I should have anticipated this, because it is a captivating room, filled with rockets and tanks and, since I was last here, the melted wreck of a car bombed in Baghdad. With a glass ceiling, two or three stories above, there is more light and air than you might expect.
My youngest child’s response reminded me that on my first visit here, I stood in the entrance of this auditorium and texted my father, the type of left-wing history teacher with whom John Howard held such little truck. He, my father, had gone home from hospital by then, recovering not so much from his first surgery, but from its long list of increasingly dramatic and spectacular complications. Neither his life, nor my trip, had, even a week before, been certain. The words of the text are long since lost.
Inside the exhbition, the lads sketched horses and swords and then we stood, the three of us, in front of the machine gun which is light enough for children to hold (gratuitous link to control arms campaign here). Eldest drew it in his journal and wrote underneath, ‘I don’t like it.’
We arrived, after the stories exhibition, and after drawing a bomb, and after the submarine, at The Trenches Experience. ‘You wait here if you like,’ I said to Eldest and pointed to the chair. ‘I think that’s a good idea,’ he said and sat.
We walked through the trenches, youngest lad holding my hand, until, back at his brother, he reported, ‘It stinks and its dark. You would have hated it.’
We stood in front of the dial which, each time it gets to the top, shows the death of another person from conflict. ‘I knew that would make you cry,’ eldeest lad said and took my hand.
We treated ourselves to lunch at the cafeteria. I had pea soup and the lads had pigs in blankets.
In the souvenir shop, they are selling combat fatigues that fit children and I suppose because I was taking a photograph of the display, the woman who was checking the sizes in reponse to her little boy’s ‘coooool’ smiled at me.